Tuesday, January 29, 2008
You don’t have to look far these days for signs that Canadian book publishers and bookstores are facing challenging times. For example:
- Pundits and researchers are warning that the practice of reading for pleasure is under siege (see Caleb Crain’s New Yorker article Twilight of the Books or the recent Ipsos-Reid/CanWest reading poll).
- Canadian booksellers and publishers are watching already razor-slim margins dwindle further due to industry consolidation, consumers’ price sensitivity, and exchange rates.
- Bestsellers are crowding out niche and literary titles in an intensely competitive book retail landscape. (For more on the last two bullets, see The Book Retail Sector in Canada study we just completed for Canadian Heritage.)
In times like these, it’s all the more important to support Canadian literature and those who make it available to us. The BC Award for Canadian Non-Fiction is doing just that—and it’s coming up soon: February 7, 2008. We work on the award program, which is now in its fourth year, and as usual, we’re anticipating a thrilling event that reminds us of all the reasons we chose to make publishing one of our core focuses.
What’s So Exciting About the BC Award?
- It’s happening in Vancouver.
Vancouver, BC. This makes it the first major national award to originate outside of Ontario. Until the BC Award was established four years ago, every one of the big national awards—the Giller, the GGs, the Charles Taylor, and the Griffin—came out of Toronto or Ottawa. The BC Award reflects the strengthening of literary culture across Canada.
- It’s worth $40,000.
That makes it the richest non-fiction prize in the country, and one of the most valuable literary prizes in Canada, period. Contrary to some popular opinion, money isn’t immaterial to writers, as much as they will continue to write in the absence of it.
- It’s all about literary non-fiction.
This is a genre in which authors write passionately and personally about the real world around them—a genre that at its best, makes Canadian readers more aware of the issues and events shaping our lives and country.
- The shortlist is riveting.
The finalists are Donald Harman Akenson’s Some Family: The Mormons and How Humanity Keeps Track of Itself, a brilliant examination of the Mormon genealogical project; Lorna Goodison’s From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her People, a lyrical exploration of family; and Jacques Poitras’s Beaverbrook: A Shattered Legacy, a journalistic investigation of art, ego, and ambition.
- The presentation ceremony is a forum for ideas about Canadian literature.
Each year, a distinguished and eloquent individual introduces each finalist—and why the finalist’s work matters. These introductions have been highlights of the event in years past, and doubtlessly will be again for the 2008 ceremony. As soon as possible after the ceremony, the introductions will be posted at The BC Achievement Foundation website. And right now, you can check out videos of last year’s introductions and remarks from the 2007 finalists.
Here’s a list of things you can do to participate in the BC Award for Canadian Non-Fiction celebration:
- Find out more about the BC Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
- Check out the BC Award finalists’ books: Some Family: The Mormons and How Humanity Keeps Track of Itself; From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her People; and Beaverbrook: A Shattered Legacy
- Tune in to CBC Radio 1’s Almanac at noon to 1:00 pm PST February 4, 5, and 6 for interviews with the finalists, and to North by Northwest the following weekend for their interview with the award winner
And keep buying Canadian books!
Posted by Kiley Turner on 01/29 at 03:12 PM
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
We’ve spent the last two weeks on the move in Eastern Canada—with stops in Ottawa, Halifax, Ottawa again, and then Toronto—and are now settling in to a large pile of mail and two disgruntled cats back here at Turner-Riggs HQ.
The trip was great and we especially appreciated the chance to deliver a couple of extended workshops to senior staff at the Department of Canadian Heritage in Ottawa and the trade committee of the Association of Canadian Publishers in Toronto.
These sessions focused on an about-to-be-published market study on book retail we did for Canadian Heritage last year. We’ll post a link to the complete study shortly. For the moment, many thanks to all who attended for your participation and your interest in the project. It was wonderful to get some direct industry feedback on the study, not to mention some excellent discussions around the changing marketplace for books in Canada.
Posted by Craig Riggs on 01/16 at 02:07 PM
Monday, January 14, 2008
Ever had that sinking “duh, no kidding” feeling when you get into a business book you thought looked interesting and find it just endlessly repeats things you already know? We have, lots of times, which is why we’re making a point to single out a title that is really helping us in our work: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip and Dan Heath.
As you might guess, the book is about communicating in a way that makes people care about and remember what you’re saying. Appropriately, its jacket cover is neon orange, with an embossed image of silver, crinkled electrical tape smack-dab in the middle of the title.
We aren’t attesting that everything between the covers of Made to Stick is novel and practice-changing; much of it is very commonsensical and second nature among the best journalists and communicators. But the lessons and tips in the book are exceedingly well delivered and entertaining. They resonate and challenge you the next time you’re hit with a stack of boring statistics or seemingly mundane information and charged with making things interesting. They’re made to stick.
The So What Test
For example, when we’re faced with a press release assignment these days, we can’t help but recall the following excerpt on the importance of conveying a piece of information people will give two hoots about. Sounds simple, but often press releases are bogged down in information the issuing organization insists be prioritized. In our experience, these are not always the same thing.
The excerpt relates screenwriter and former journalist Nora Ephron’s experience of the impact her high school journalism teacher had on her decision to pursue that field.
Ephron’s teacher announced the first assignment. [The students] would write the lead of a newspaper story. The teacher reeled off the facts: ‘Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium on new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown.’
The budding journalists sat at their typewriters and pecked away at the first lead of their careers. According to Ephron, she and most of the other students produced leads that reordered the facts and condensed them down into a single sentence: ‘Governor Pat Brown, Margaret Mead, and Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the Beverly Hills High School Faculty Thursday in Sacramento ... blah, blah, blah.’
The teacher collected the leads and scanned them rapidly. Then he laid them aside and paused for a moment.
Finally, he said, the lead to the story is ‘There will be no school next Thursday.’
‘It was a breathtaking moment,’ Ephron recalls. ‘In that instant I realized that journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point. It wasn’t enough to know the who, what, when, and where; you had to understand what it meant. And why it mattered.’
There are so many stories out there competing for attention. The only way to rise above them is to connect your information with the real concerns and fascinations of your target audience. For a little inspiration, try Made to Stick.
Posted by Kiley Turner on 01/14 at 06:30 PM